The Economist recently published a very funny article with a very serious message: if you are using machine translation, like Google Translate, and you are unable to understand the translation, make sure you call in a native speaker to check the translations. Why? Because it can lead to seriously embarrassing results.
Columnist Johnson draws attention to this in his Botched translation article inspired by a show window he passed in Manhattan which featured the word “welcome” in a number of languages. At least, that was what the window was supposed to say, but for most languages, the translation was not exactly on target… Here are a few funny examples!
The German word for welcome on the window was Empfang: this is incorrect, as the right word should have been Wilkommen. “Empfang” means welcome as in a reception or even a reception area in a hotel.
Some of the translations on the window are more or less correct: yookoso indeed is the right translation for the word welcome in Japan; however, for stores and restaurants, irashaimase is actually preferred.
For Russian, the machine translation opted for прием, (priyom), which is again wrong. Прием also means something along the lines of reception or even receiving. It can be used as welcome, but Russian normally use the phrase dobro pozhalovat to welcome you.
A number of translations are fairly close: the Spanish translation of welcome is bienvenida, which is the right way to say welcome, but to a woman.
Next to the strange selection of languages, which does not seem to have anything to do with the nationality of tourists visiting New York (the chances of encountering a Latin-speaking tourist are slim), Johnson adds that he also finds it striking that the translations consist of different parts of speech; some are verb phrases, but adjectives and nouns can be found as well.
The lesson to learn
If you have to use machine translations, please have someone sense check them who understands the language!
We remember a client that once used Google Translate for some the translation of some ingredient names on packaging. His Dutch clients were scratching their heads as to why the food “May contain nuts” (yes, the wrong type of nut!)